When you hear the word "godmother," you probably think of a woman who attends a baby’s christening and agrees to take a leading role in the child’s religious upbringing. Sometimes you may even think of a fairy godmother, the magical woman who watches over princesses and helps Cinderella find her happily ever after. But you probably didn’t know that cruise ships have godmothers too.

An Ancient Tradition

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The tradition dates back to ancient times when the Egyptians blessed their ships before they went to sea. The Romans, Babylonians and Greeks called upon deities to protect ships as they sailed across the ocean. In those times, it might have involved an animal sacrifice or some type of alcoholic beverage, but today it usually involves a bottle of champagne cracked against the ship’s hull. And we no longer appeal to ancient deities or sacrifice animals to safeguard a ship. Today we turn to the cruise godmother.

Enter the Godmother

A cruise godmother is chosen to bring good luck to a new ship about to set sail on a maiden voyage. For centuries, male priests, politicians or royalty were used to bless a ship and give it a celebratory send off.  Later on, ship companies chose the wives of heads of state or royalty to serve as godmothers. Nowadays, cruise lines want as much publicity as possible for their new ships. To accomplish this, they often ask actors, astronauts and various celebrities to serve as godmothers. It’s also equal opportunity, meaning men can be godmothers too.

Godmothers attend the ships inaugural launch and naming ceremony. This is the time when they get to bless and name the new ship. In the past, godmothers cracked a bottle of champagne against the hull. Today’s ships are massive in comparison, however, so in order to get the job done, the godmother pushes a lever or button that causes the champagne bottle to swing toward the bow and crash against its hull. If the bottle doesn’t break, it’s considered bad luck.

Glamorous Godmothers

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The list of godmothers associated with cruise ships reads like a who’s who of the rich and famous. Oprah Winfrey, Julie Andrews, Whoopi Goldberg and Kristin Chenoweth have all been godmothers. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is godmother to the ship Royal Princess. Even the late Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn once served as godmothers. Of course, the most famous godmother of all is Queen Elizabeth II. She’s been the godmother to several ships over the years.

Groups can also be honored as godmothers. For example, the Rockettes are godmothers to the Norwegian Breakaway.

But it’s not just the rich and famous that become ship godmothers. Even non-celebrities can serve in this role. For example, Katherine Louise Calder was selected to be a godmother for the Royal Caribbean ship named Freedom of the Seas. Calder fostered more than 400 special needs children. So the Royal Caribbean granted her the position of godmother.

What's in it for the Godmothers?

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So what do cruise ship godmothers receive in exchange for their patronage? Usually, the godmother receives some type of gift like a piece of jewelry as well as one or more free cruise vacations each year. That’s right. A free cruise every year just for breaking a champagne bottle and giving a ship its name. The jury’s still out whether cruise godmothers truly bring good luck and safe voyages to cruise ships. But these kinds of ceremonies have been going on for centuries. So it’s a safe bet the tradition will continue for years to come.